Egyptian Symbols: Sekhem Scepter

Of all the different versions and shapes of ancient Egyptian scepters, the sekhem scepter is one of the most popular and widely used. This scepter is most associated with concepts of power, might, control and authority. It is mostly seen held by persons of importance and nobility, by the pharaoh and even by deities. In appearance, it resembles a flat paddle with a papyrus handle.

The sekhem is appeared to have originated from Abydos as a fetish of Osiris. Osiris was known as the “The Great Sekhem” or “Foremost of Power” solidifying the connection with the deity even more. Due to its association with Osiris especially in his funerary role, it also became linked with the reclining underworld deity, Anubis as his emblem. In the Temple of Hu where Anubis is sacred, an area is dedicated to the scepter known as the “Enclosure of the Sekhem”. The sekhem scepter is also associated with other lesser mortuary deities as their symbols like Khentimentiu (translated as Chief of the Westerners) who was associated with royal cemeteries. It may also be linked with the goddess Sekhmet who was known as “The Mighty One”.

In the period after the 3rd Dynasty, the scepter appeared in the nemes of the pharaoh and eventually, with the queen, prince and princesses. However, in some depiction, it may also be seen carried by viziers and other officials even in the Predynastic Period. It often held while they were performing their duties. This version of the scepter had two carved eyes on top to symbolize the position of the person. In fact, in one of the more popular funerary statues, the sekhem scepter is carried on one hand and the staff on the left.

The sekhem scepter is also especially useful during mortuary and temple rituals often held by the pharaoh as the officiating person. He often holds the scepter in the right hand and was to be waved four or five times over the materials, food and offerings during the ritual recitations. In these offerings, often, two sekhem scepters were utilized to please both Horus and Set.

One of the most famous versions of the scepter was the gilded one found in Tutankhamen’s tomb. Five registers portraying the slaughtered bull was carved at the back of this version suggesting why it was waved five times over the offerings.